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HIV blood test party as part of a campaign to prevent HIV among same sex couples in Bangkok

Last month bare chested models strutted their funky stuff to the beat of house music while dozens of men prepared themselves to have an HIV test by a mostly female health team. TestBKK was the first mass HIV testing for gay men, and it sent a powerful message.

In Bangkok over the last decade HIV has spread rapidly among gay and transgender men reaching epidemic levels, touted as an HIV success story Thailand is now facing rates similar to those in African’s hot spots.

The authorities in Thailand have woken up to the scale of the problem and embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about HIV among those most at risk.

One of the largest campaigns came last march with the release of guidelines on how to prevent the spread of HIV in men who have sex with other men and transgender people, however some feel, this information being released thirty years after the first Thai gay man was diagnosed with HIV was leaving it rather late.

This month the Ministry for Public Health will begin to offer free drugs to all HIV patients and put them into the state’s monitoring system.

Data from 2013 estimates that around 450,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS but only 353,000 have access to life saving antiretroviral drugs. The gay community in Thailand officially numbers at around 560,000 or 3% of men aged between 15 and 49, although it has been suggested that the number is closer to one million

In 2003 while working for the US. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) unit in Thailand, van Griensven collected data showing that 17.3% of 1,121 Thai men in Bangkok bars, saunas and pick up spots tested positive for HIV.

Timothy Holtz, director of an HIV-focused programme run jointly by the CDC and Thai Ministry of Public Health, said the HIV epidemic among gay men “really is an emergency situation”.

“The only place you really see high rates like that are in the hardest hit areas among the generalised HIV epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa,” Holtz said in an interview at the CDC-run Silom Community Clinic at Mahidol University’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

“It’s not quite as high as it is in some really high-risk populations in southern Africa, such as in young women of child-bearing age in South Africa, but it’s still very alarming.”

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